Certain human experiences will always transcend time. They make themselves prevalent throughout life, becoming visible not only in first hand accounts, but through art, literature and music created by people wishing to express the way they feel about a particular emotion. If film has done one thing it has popularized the streamlining of ideas by taking something that someone feels and repeating that sentiment over a multitude of flickering moving pictures. No one has accomplished this better than Walt Disney; their message of “follow your heart” has been repeated continuously for the last few generations. While that message is almost always given with a healthy dose of “magic” often relying on the supernatural elements of their stories to emphasize the ability of the heart, one particular film stands out due to it’s use of fantastic musical numbers, but a complete lack of anything truly magical. I am referring to, of course 1967’s The Happiest Millionaire.
I should clarify; though The Happiest Millionaire is devoid of magic, it is certainly not lacking in the absurd. The story follows the life of the Biddle family through the eyes of the newly hired Butler, John Lawless (Who is played impeccably by Tommy Steele.) The Patriarch of the family, one Anthony J Drexel Biddle (Fred Macmurray) is a man that is as eccentric as he is rich; and he is extremely rich. Among Mr. Biddle’s hobbies is boxing, mixing Bible study with exercise routines, raising alligators in the conservatory and singing opera. Biddle is forced to face certain realities, particularly with his socially awkward Daughter Cordy. While she is on the cusp of becoming a woman, she has been raised with two brothers. She is interested in boys, but knows more about boxing than she does about flirting. The film progresses to her eventual courtship and engagement to a young and equally rich gentlemen, and follows the complications that arise from having such an odd family.
The Sherman brothers have created more music for film than any other song writing duo. Which is why their involvement in this movie (which is similar in style tofilms like Marry Poppins) comes as no surprise. The score, along with the narrative musical numbers in this film help explain the emotions and thoughts of the characters perfectly, which is no easy task when considering the range of characters within the film. Tommy Steele in particular is fantastic as the newly immigrated butlerand narrator of the story. It’s a blast to see him weave through the sets, often times breaking the fourth wall.
It’s a fun and meaningful story that is connected by sweet melodies and meaningful lyrics. While certainly not gaining as much notoriety as some of the more well known live action Disney musicals, The Happiest Millionaire certainly upholds the Disney standard. As I said before, it’s devoid of “magical” elements, though it lacks no charm and only adds to the fact that the Biddle family actually existed, and Mr. Biddle was just as eccentric as Fred Macmurray was in this film.